J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, March 31, 2013

What Were British Children Reading in the 1700s?

Earlier this month McGill University in Montreal shared an interview with Prof. Matthew Grenby of Newcastle University on children’s books of eighteenth-century Britain. Some of those made their way to New England, first as imports and later (especially after independence) as models to be pirated.

Some extracts from Prof. Grenby:
…children’s books from the eighteenth century became so rare that often the collectors didn’t have much choice, and had to acquire copies that children had torn, written on, coloured in, sometimes almost worn out. For the book historian, these are more valuable. They give real insight into the way that children used their books and what they thought of them in the period when children’s literature was being invented.

For instance, sometimes a book’s user pencilled marks into the margins to record their progress though the book. From these we can calculate how long it took a child to read a story, or to complete the tasks in a geography textbook (if indeed they did). Other kinds of ‘marginalia’ give children’s comments on the books they were reading – or record what they were planning to do that afternoon, or what they thought of their teacher or classmates. . . .

A lot of the books also have inscriptions: the owner asserting (sometime very menacingly) his or her ownership of the book.
I’ve seen such inscriptions in copies of the textbooks used in Boston’s Latin Schools. Often a boy wrote out a warning against theft—in Latin. Since I doubt there was really a wave of Latin-reading book thieves, I think those inscriptions signal pride in owning both the book itself and a knowledge of Latin.
What we now know is that, in the first years of children’s literature, more girls owned books than boys, books penetrated all social classes and religions, and that ownership was spread widely in geographical terms. . . .

Morality, and piety, was an important element in eighteenth-century British children’s books. They could be surprisingly relaxed about religious conformity though. A book might talk about how important it was, on Sunday, to go to church, but the author could give the alternatives of chapel, or the Quaker meeting house. Sometimes we have evidence of parents who reacted angrily to this ecumenicalism, crossing out ‘chapel’ and ‘meeting house’ to keep their children orthodox.
The most reprinted book in eighteenth-century New England was almost certainly The New England Primer, a schoolbook for children learning to read. And the reason it had the New England name is that it was tailored for the region’s dominant Puritan faith. A typical edition included a picture of a Protestant martyr being killed in front of his children (example above courtesy of Stanford) and the shorter Westminster catechism. I doubt books suggesting Catholic chapels or Quaker meetings would have been popular here, but perhaps the culture opened up after independence.
We now tend to think of reading as quite a private, personal experience. But in the eighteenth century this probably wasn’t always the case, particularly for children. Children’s books were generally supposed to be read aloud and in company. They were supposed to form the basis of conversation. That’s not just chat, but rather ‘conversation’ understood as a distinct and systematic educational practice. It was imagined that parents or teachers would read the book first, then select certain parts for the child to read over him or herself, probably aloud, followed by carefully directed discussion.

Whether this actually happened much in real life is debateable.
Proper parenting can be exhausting, after all.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Freemasons and Furniture in Newport Next Month

The Newport Historical Society has two lectures on intriguing eighteenth-century historical topics scheduled for next month.

On Thursday, 11 April, at 5:30 the society will host Samuel Biagetti as he speaks on “Rupture in the Temple: The Rise and Fall of Freemasonry in Colonial Rhode Island, 1749-1772.”
After a brief period of success and prestige in the 1750s, the lodges in Newport and Providence imploded in the Stamp Act crisis. In the years of political turmoil that followed, many Rhode Island Masons fled in the Loyalist exodus. Mr. Biagetti will explain how the story of Freemasonry in Rhode Island underscores the importance of ritual, symbolism, and emotion in forging Masonic bonds—and the power of politics to challenge or even destroy those same bonds.
A graduate of Brown, Biagetti is now working on his Ph.D. at Columbia, and this topic is part of his thesis.

On Wednesday, 24 April, at 5:30 the society will welcome Jennifer Anderson, author of Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America, as she speaks on “From Rainforest to Parlor: The Mahogany Trade in Colonial Rhode Island.”
By the 1760s, imported mahogany was all the rage for fine furniture in colonial America. Many examples of these elegant pieces were made in Newport. . . .

As the coveted mahogany trees were quickly depleted in their native Caribbean range, the mahogany trade became an increasingly risky and competitive business. Nevertheless, many Rhode Island merchants, sea captains, and cabinetmakers—eager to profit from this desirable and luxurious wood—took their chances in this new line of trade. In her talk, Dr. Anderson will discuss the adventures (and misadventures) of some of these participants and their quest to secure this precious material.
Anderson is a professor of history at Stony Brook University. She received the Society of American Historians’ Nevins Prize for Best-Written Dissertation, which is always a good sign.

Both talks will take place at the society’s Colony House, a landmark opened in 1739. Admission is $1 for Newport Historical Society members, $5 for non-members. Phone 401-841-8770 to reserve seats.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jefferson or Not?

I recently came across the Is This Jefferson? website, devoted to making the case that a portrait apparently painted by Nicholas Benjamin Delapierre in 1785 shows Thomas Jefferson, then ambassador to France.

As this press release acknowledges, no one is on record as thinking this is a painting of Jefferson until its current owner.

Delapierre painted an early printing of De la Caisse d’Escompte on the desk of the man in the portrait. That book was authored principally by Mirabeau, but the man obviously isn’t that jowly count. The book’s other authors included Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (who later settled in Delaware), and Étienne Clavière.

Jefferson knew all four men and admired their book. However, his own book, Notes on the State of Virginia, was published in Paris at the same time, and normally a painter would portray an author with his own work.

The website argues that letters from John Adams’s family hint at an early, previously unidentified Jefferson portrait. I think we can read those letters to indicate that the Adams family picked up Jefferson’s portrait from Boston native Mather Brown in 1786, liked it so much they wanted a copy, and therefore returned it to Brown’s studio for duplication before the end of the year.

Furthermore, I think the portrait looks a lot like Brissot, one of the authors of that book on the desk. The website compares this painting to later portraits of Jefferson, but doesn’t line both up against later portraits of Brissot. What do you think?

“Making Saltpetre” Seminar in Boston, 2 April

On Tuesday, 2 April, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a session of the Boston Area Early American History Seminar starting at 5:15. David Hsiung, professor at Juniata College, will present a paper on “Making Saltpetre for the Continental Army: How Americans Understood the Environment During the War of Independence.” His précis:
This case study focuses on how Americans understood the workings of the natural world as they imperfectly made gunpowder for the Continental Army. It argues that paying attention to the interactions between humans and the natural environment leads to a richer understanding of the war, and that modern American attitudes towards the environment have important roots in the Revolutionary period.
Juniata is known for its environmental study programs, and Prof. Hsiung is working on a history of the siege of Boston through the lens of environmental history.

The expert commenter on this paper will be Rob Martello from the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, who wrote a book on Paul Revere as manufacturer. I look forward to another uncommon perspective on the past. The paper is available online to seminar subscribers (in three pieces), and some hard copies might be available for members of the public to read before the discussion that afternoon.

American governments scrambled to promote the manufacture of gunpowder in 1775, but they had actually been trying that off and on for over a century. Back in June 1642, the Massachusetts General Court passed this resolution:
by raising and producing such materials amongst us as will perfect the making of gunpowder, the instrumental meanes that all nations lay hould on for their preservation, &c., do order that every plantation within this Colony shall erect a house in length about 20 or 30 foote, and twenty foote wide within one half year next coming, &c., to make saltpetre from urine of men, beasts, goates, henns, hogs, and horses’ dung, &c.
Urine provided nitrogen, a crucial ingredient of gunpowder. But it’s not hard to think why towns didn’t keep up that part of their local infrastructure.

(Satirical print from 1783 Britain courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tea, Maps, and Furniture at Historic Deerfield

Historic Deerfield is featuring a new exhibit called “Tea Talk: Ritual and Refinement in Early New England Parlors” in the lobby of its Flynt Center museum. The website says:
Tea and tea drinking arrived in New England by the late 17th century, a time of burgeoning trade and expansion of the British Empire. This stimulating brew from China was first touted as a cure for a variety of illnesses such as colds, headaches, sleepiness, poor digestion, and hangovers. But in no time tea was soon counted among the necessities of life; many found a warming cup of tea invaluable for entertaining friends, sharing polite conversation and town gossip, practicing their etiquette and lessons in refinement, displaying their family’s wealth and status, or just withstanding the rigors of a cold New England winter.

Though its high cost confined the beverage at first to the parlors of the wealthy, tea eventually extended to all levels of New England society. The popularity of tea proved to be a boon for craftsmen such as potters, silversmiths, cabinetmakers, and glassblowers.

The caffeinated beverage required a host of novel equipment with which to prepare and serve it properly: a tea table and chairs, a hot water kettle, a teapot, sugar bowl, tea canister, slop or waste bowl, cream pot, and silver spoons—not to mention the cups and saucers. Porcelain wares from China were the logical early choice, but it was not long before British and American craftsmen produced their own wares in competition. Utensils made of earthenware or pewter served people of average or lesser means, while the wealthy turned to the silversmith or the china merchant for more fashionable equipage.
This exhibition will be on view through 16 Feb 2014. One could visit on 14 April when Mary Pedley, Adjunct Assistant Curator of Maps at the William L. Clements Library in Michigan, speaks at the Deerfield Community Center on “Mapping Fear: Stoking the Fires of the French and Indian War.” That free event is listed as running 2:00 to 4:00 P.M.

The Flynt Center also still has parts of its “Into the Woods” exhibit of early American furniture-making on display. That was one of the best museum exhibits I’ve seen anywhere. This Antiques Journal article gives a good sense of its topics and approach.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Details from Capt. Samuel Leighton’s Papers

As I looked over the document dealer Seth Kaller’s offerings from the papers of Capt. Samuel Leighton of Kittery, Maine, a few things jumped out at me.

Records of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety say that a total of 91 guns were delivered to Col. James Scamman’s regiment on 30 June and 7 July 1775. The papers for sale include a receipt for four guns dated 4 July. The most expensive of those guns, worth a third of the total, is connected with Henry Foss, who was the Leighton company’s drummer.

Foss also had one of the best signatures in the company, as shown by this document. A few men signed with their marks only, including one, Stephen Nason, who is listed as a corporal. Normally I expect the non-commissioned officers to be able to write, but this man might have been exceptional.

At a council of war on 3 Aug 1775, Gen. George Washington learned that his army’s stock of gunpowder was considerably smaller than he’d understood. I suspect that led to Capt. Leighton’s inventory of “Aminitson” held by men on 12 August. It looks like most of the company had over twenty rounds.

At the end of the year, Col. Scamman didn’t receive a new Continental Army commission. Despite being acquitted in a court-martial, he apparently hadn’t escaped the cloud hanging over him since Bunker Hill. In fact, he continued to argue against those charges in the newspaper in 1776.

Capt. Leighton and many of his men chose not to reenlist. They accepted money in lieu of winter coats and collected their October pay on 29 December. Leighton turned in some ammunition and other supplies and got a receipt on 1 Jan 1776.

And then Capt. Leighton and many of his men went back home to Maine. Leighton was in Kittery on 8 March when he paid Sgt. Josiah Paul. Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts Gen. Washington was overseeing the endgame of the siege from Dorchester Heights.

A family genealogy includes his Samuel Leighton’s commission in the Massachusetts militia dated 16 May 1776. He led a company back to Boston later that year for guard duty and eventually was promoted to major in the state militia, but never again served in the Continental Army.

Among the other Leighton documents is what Seth Kaller calls a list of instructions for infantry formations. It’s actually the section headings of chapter five of Gen. Steuben’s drill manual, titled “Miscellaneous Evolutions.” That was published in 1779, so I assume Leighton or a relative copied it out later in the war, maybe for militia training.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Capt. Samuel Leighton and His Regiment

Will Steere at the Seth Kaller Inc. dealer in historic documents alerted me to some recent offerings that shed a little light on the siege of Boston. They are more of the papers of Capt. Samuel Leighton (1740-1802) of Kittery, Maine. His men came from that area and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. One can find them all at the Seth Kaller site by searching for the keyword “Leighton.”

This company was part of the regiment of Col. James Scamman (1742-1804). Documents in the Massachusetts archives indicate that some officers and men in that regiment wanted their colonel to be Johnson Moulton, a veteran of the French & Indian War who had mustered a minute company on 21 Apr 1775 and marched south. By the time Moulton returned home four days later, however, Scamman was evidently recruiting.

Moulton signed on to Scamman’s regiment as lieutenant colonel on 2 May but brought Gen. Artemas Ward a letter from prominent neighbors dated three days later recommending that he be made colonel. “There is a considerable number of good men enlisted already, with a view of said Moulton being their Colonel,” the letter closed. Scamman could be lieutenant colonel, they suggested.

The Massachusetts Committee of Safety was convinced enough to ask Scamman to step aside in a 7 May letter. But he didn’t. Instead, he marched his regiment to Cambridge and mustered them there on 23 May.

The committee decided that they couldn’t remove Scamman without his cooperation. They certified his regiment as “nearly full” and recommended commissions for his officers. On 29 May, Moulton was officially made the regiment’s lieutenant colonel. Later the Continental Congress issued the equivalent commissions. Leighton’s commission as a Continental captain, dated 1 July, is quoted here.

By then, Leighton’s company had been involved in the fight for Hog Island but not in the Battle of Bunker Hill for reasons explained here. According to a muster roll Leighton prepared, three of his men had deserted, two reportedly on 1 July.

TOMORROW: More of Capt. Leighton’s documents.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

250 Years After Pontiac’s (and Others’) War

On 4-5 April, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies in Philadelphia will host a conference titled “The War Called Pontiac’s, 1763-2013.” As you can see, this year marks the 250th anniversary of that frontier conflict, which is usually overshadowed by the French & Indian War.

The conference description says:
The 250th anniversary of what has long been known as “Pontiac’s War” offers scholars an opportunity to reexamine the conflict and its impact on the history of North America. The role of the Odowa leader Pontiac and the widespread scope and the varying aims of other Native participants in the conflicts of the mid-1760s defy easy categorization, a problem well summed up by historian Francis Jennings’s phrase, “The War Called ‘Pontiac’s.’”

Many contemporary British observers and combatants sought some conceptual clarity by casting the blame on French-inspired treachery. Many Native people located the treachery among the British. In the mid-nineteenth-century, Francis Parkman constructed an epic tale of a single charismatic Indian leader and the last gasp of a doomed people. More recent work offers a much more complex interpretation of an inter-Native movement grounded in Native spirituality and aiming to regain status as well as land for its Native participants in the new geopolitical world after the Seven Years War.
Among commanders in the siege of Boston, Gen. Thomas Gage oversaw the British army in North America in the latter part of this war, and Israel Putnam was part of the force recruited by Robert Rogers to reinforce Fort Detroit. Among the political legacies of the war was the British government’s conviction that enforcing the Proclamation Line of 1763 and maintaining significant troops in North America were both necessary for keeping the peace, even after that year’s victory over the French Empire. Both policies would, of course, lead to discontent in the Atlantic colonies.

This conference will consist mainly of discussions of pre-circulated (and hopefully pre-read) papers rather than lectures. It’s free and open to the public, but to gain access to those papers online attendees have to register at the conference website.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cuts at National Historical Park This Summer

The federal budget cuts under “sequestration” will affect the U.S. National Park Service for the rest of this federal fiscal year, to the end of September. The National Geographic Education blog explains:
The terms of the sequestration require the National Park System to cut 5 percent, or $134 million, from its overall budget. Because each park receives its own budget, each park must cut 5 percent of its spending. This requirement is especially hard-hitting because the cuts are coming half-way through the year after the parks have already spent part of their yearly budget. Additionally, the cuts are coming on the cusp of the summer season when parks are typically increasing their staffing and costs of operations to meet the demand of summer tourists.
As I understand it, the Park Service’s central office told each site to preserve critical services and personnel as much as possible. But I’m sure people will notice some effects, and I hope they’ll recognize the root of the problem.

Most parks that I’ve heard about will still have full-time rangers giving tours this summer. But there won’t be so many seasonal rangers to provide more tours at the busiest times and help out in other ways. There won’t be so many “non-critical” programs for the public.

There will definitely be cuts behind the scenes. As the Boston Globe reports, Minute Man National Historical Park will face “delays on replacing equipment,” and “rangers will likely have to lend a hand with basic maintenance, while volunteers help with guided tours and staffing visitor centers.”

At Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters in Cambridge, the contract to clean the visitor center and its bathrooms has been canceled. The permanent staff will take up that task, which might mean they won’t be able to give so many tours during the day.

Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters also has a long-running summer festival of concerts and poetry readings, free to all. The park had to cut its financial contribution to those events, and a non-profit group (with whom I work) is scrambling to fill the gap. This summer’s schedule may therefore be shorter than usual.

At Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia (shown above), the local N.B.C. affiliate reported that Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell will close at 5:00 P.M., affecting about 150,000 visitors; several related historic buildings won’t open to the public at all; and all ranger-led walking tours and programs are canceled.

And of course the cuts mean less money going to the students and teachers who are often seasonal rangers, to the cleaning contractors, to the equipment makers, and to other private enterprises that do work for the Park Service.

Most economists advise against such government austerity when the economy is recovering from recession and the currency is strong; Britain’s government chose otherwise and is suffering no growth or a secondary recession. In the U.S. government, the House of Representatives (where the Republican majority received 1.4 million fewer votes than the Democratic minority) has been demanding such deep cuts, and with “sequestration” achieved that goal. This summer we’ll see how we the people like the results.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Knockoffs of Cincinnati Chinaware

A while back, a longtime Boston 1775 reader alerted me to this story in the New York Times:
Shirley M. Mueller…, an independent scholar and collector of Chinese export porcelain in Indianapolis,…is looking for dinnerware painted with winged goddesses, holding aloft trumpets and bald eagles, which are symbols of the Society of the Cincinnati. Elite military officers formed the Society in 1783, and they commissioned custom porcelain from artisans in China. Those artisans applied the American insignia on standard white ceramic wares, with blue scrollwork and leaves around the undulating rims.

Chinese factories also exported plain versions of the blue-edged products. Some nefarious painters have lately been adding goddesses and eagles to the centers of authentic but boring 18th-century plates.

Ms. Mueller has so far tracked down a few freshly embellished pieces. In 2009 she borrowed one suspect for lab testing at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, comparing it with an authenticated platter in her own collection that had been widely exhibited and featured in publications. The pigments on the forgery contained levels of chromium, zinc and cobalt that do not appear in those used by Chinese ceramists.

The whole back of the fake had the wrong tint. “The necessary refiring of the later dish to add the central embellishment left a partial gray surface on the back,” Ms. Mueller and the Winterthur scientist Jennifer Mass wrote in a 2011 article for The Magazine Antiques.
The porcelain shown above is a genuine fake. It’s a modern reproduction of George Washington’s Cincinnati chinaware, sold by Mount Vernon.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rebirthing the Revolution for the 2000s

The McNeil Center for Early American Studies and nearby organizations are hosting a conference in Philadelphia from 30 May to 1 June 2013 on “The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century.” What does that mean?

The conference aims to identify new directions and new trends in scholarship on the American Revolution. The conference organizers expect that it will be the first in a series of conferences exploring important themes on the era of the American Revolution. The four themes that will guide the first conference are Global Perspectives, Power, Violence, and Civil War.

The format of the conference will differ from most academic conferences. Instead of privileging[*] papers, the conference organizers have created a program that aims to foster conversation between panelists and the audience with the hope that this dialogue will point toward the new directions in scholarship that the conference hopes to catalyze. . . . Instead of reading papers, panelists will pre-circulate short papers (10 pages). In the papers sessions, panelists will have just eight minutes to present their work, leaving the larger part of each papers session for discussion with the audience.
The organizers say, “We expect the audience to be as much a part of the conference as the panelists.” Nonetheless, the scheduled panelists are a stellar lot, including Linda Colley, Edward Countryman, Christine Heyrman, Jane Kamensky, Margaretta Lovell, Marcus Rediker, Annette Gordon-Reed, David Shields, Thomas Slaughter, Alan Taylor, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Along with the McNeil Center, the hosting organizations include the David Library of the American Revolution, the Museum of the American Revolution, and the American Philosophical Society. More information is available on the conference website.

* The use of “privilege” as a verb acting upon things instead of people confirms that this is a modern academic conference, just as the planned discussion of who was the best general shows that this weekend’s American Revolution conference in Williamsburg is not primarily designed for academics. But perhaps the two approaches can cross-pollinate.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

“Hardcore guys—90% of them emanate from a one-square-mile neighborhood called Charlestown”

This week Deadline.com broke the news that Warner Bros. paid a fairly hefty sum for a movie option on Nathaniel Philbrick’s upcoming book, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution.

The article said:

The project was acquired for Pearl Street Films as a potential directing vehicle for Argo helmer Ben Affleck, who partners in the company with Matt Damon. Word is that Affleck (who is busy adapting the Dennis Lehane novel Live By Night to direct, star in and produce) will turn the book over to his Argo scribe Chris Terrio, making this a major project.
But not Affleck’s next project, and of course there’s a possibility that it might never be filmed. But if Affleck wanted to combine his fondness for Boston with what he learned from Argo about staging historical fiction, Bunker Hill offers a terrific combo.

Back in 2007 I was part of a discussion of the movie potential for that battle and offered this scene of Abijah Willard recognizing hardcore guy William Prescott on the provincial redoubt.

In The Whites of Their Eyes, Paul Lockhart was skeptical that ever happened. I’m pleased to say that Philbrick’s Bunker Hill makes the case that it was possible. But just because we can’t rule out the story doesn’t mean it really happened.

I’m still not totally convinced about the details, given the multiple versions of the tale that have come down to us. The tale must have been juiced for drama before it was first written down. But it’s documented enough for Hollywood.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Von Hoffman on Colonial Country Homes, 20 Mar.

On Wednesday, 20 March, the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford plays host to a lecture on “The Social Significance of Boston’s Colonial Country Houses” by Alexander von Hoffman, lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

The event description says:
Dr. von Hoffman will explore how the members of Boston’s eighteenth-century elite expanded their social lives into the town’s suburban and rural environs. Fashionably designed country houses are among the most notable and long-lasting artifacts left by these leading Bostonians.

The stately homes that still ring Boston include not only the Isaac Royall House in Medford but also the Vassal-Craigie-Longfellow House in Cambridge, the Loring-Greenough House in Jamaica Plain, and the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury.

The presentation will feature a close look at the architecture of these buildings and the social context in which they were built, offering lively and accessible insights into this important, but often overlooked, aspect of Boston's history.
One interesting analysis of the Revolutionary political turmoil points out that many of the leading Whigs—James Otis, William Molineux, Dr. Thomas Young, Dr. Joseph Warren, Dr. Benjamin Church, John Adams, Joseph Greenleaf—had moved into the town after growing up elsewhere. In contrast, some leading supporters of the royal government—Thomas Hutchinson, Andrew and Peter Oliver—were emulating landed gentlemen in Britain by leaving the urban environment to build country estates.

That analysis leaves out Boston natives who remained in town, such as Samuel Adams, James Bowdoin, and Samuel and William Cooper, and Loyalists who didn’t grow up there or never left. But it does connect to what those monumental mansions signified.

Alexander von Hoffman is a Senior Fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University and author of House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America’s Urban Neighborhoods.

Dr. Von Hoffman’s talk begins at 7:30 P.M., with the door opening an hour earlier. This event is free to Royall House Association members, $5 for others. On-street parking is available, and there might be punch and cookies afterward.

Monday, March 18, 2013

“He began scattering the crowfeet about”

Lt. Jesse Adair of the British Marines was one of the officers who was on the march out to Concord on 18-19 Apr 1775, stopping provincial horsemen along the way.

He was also one of the last British military officers to leave Boston during the evacuation on 17 Mar 1776, as Martin Hunter (then a lieutenant, later a general) described in his memoir:

Lieutenant Adair of the Marines, an acting engineer, was ordered to strew crow-feet in front of the lines to impeded the march of the enemy, as it was supposed they should attack our rear. Being an Irishman, he began scattering the crowfeet about from the gate towards the enemy, and, of course, had to walk over them on his return, which detained him so long that he was nearly taken prisoner.
The photograph above from Britain’s National Army Museum shows a crow’s foot or caltrop from the seventeenth century. They were developed to stop cavalry charges as well as slow down infantry. Minuteman Treasures shows another type.

I don’t think any American source describes Continental soldiers trying to capture Lt. Adair, so I suspect that part of Hunter’s story is jocular exaggeration. After all, what’s an ethnic joke without wild exaggeration?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

“The Agreeable Sight of a number of ships leaving”

This being Evacuation Day, I’m quoting all of Col. Jedidiah Huntington’s letter to his father back in Connecticut about that turning-point:
Roxbury Camp 17th March 1776

Hond. Sir,—

This morning we had the Agreeable Sight of a number of ships leaving the Town of Boston with a large number of Boats full of Soldiers, about ten of Clock several Lads came to our out Centries and informed us that the Troops had intirely left the Town and that the Selectmen were coming out to see us, soon after we had the Pleasure of seeing Messrs. [Samuel] Austin, [John] Scolly, [Thomas] Marshall &c—they had an Interview with the General [Ward or Washington?] & gave him the best Intellegence they could concerning the state of the Town & the Intentions of the Enemy—

the Enemy are now all laying between the Castle & Light House in full View from the Town and make a very formidable Appearance, we shall keep a sharp look out till they are out of Sight at least—the Talk of the Town is that the Troops are gone to Hallifax—the Country ought to be well on their Guard in every Place where it is likely they will make a Descent—

I expect most if not all the established Regiments will be ordered from this Station as soon as the Enemy are gone from the Bay—where my Destination will be I know not I hope it will give me an Opportunity of seeing Norwich—my Love & Duty to Mother & all & remain Your dutifull & affectionate son

J Huntington
The comment on “several Lads” who came out to the sentries appears to be the sole basis of statements like this in Richard Ketchum’s Decisive Day:
…a pack of little boys burst out of doors, ran screaming and yelling down Orange Street toward the town gates, and pelted across Boston Neck toward Roxbury, somehow darting in and out between Lieutenant [Jesse] Adair’s booby traps. Shouting with glee, the youngsters raced up to the rebel outposts and breathlessly delivered the news that Boston was free at last.
And from David McCullough’s 1776: “In no time small boys came running across the Neck from Boston to deliver the news that the ‘lobster backs’ were gone at last.”

I’d love to find an account from one of those boys, but it might tell quite a different story from the explosion of youthful energy Ketchum pictured. The word “Lads” could apply to older teenagers, for example.

I quoted the selectmen’s perspective on their errand here.

TOMORROW: Lt. Adair and the booby traps.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How Do You Solve a Problem like George Baylor?

Yesterday I quoted a letter from Gen. George Washington noting that George Baylor (shown here) held a unique position among his aides de camp. Baylor was the equivalent of a bike messenger among paralegals. While the rest of the staff were good at composing and copying letters, orders, and other paperwork, Baylor was not a “ready Pen-man” and good only for riding.

(Which is not to say that Baylor wasn’t from the same genteel class as the other aides de camp. He was a Virginia planter not unlike Washington himself. But he didn’t have professional training as an attorney, businessman, or doctor, as Washington came to prefer in his aides.)

Of course, the commander-in-chief couldn’t just fire Baylor and fill the slot with another penman. Not when Baylor was the son of a companion from the French & Indian War. Not when he was the senior aide and perfectly agreeable about doing all the riding tasks Washington asked of him.

But there was a tradition in the eighteenth-century British army that after a major victory the commander would choose one aide to carry his official report back to the capital. That was a big honor for the junior officer, not least because another tradition held that the bearer of such good news usually got a promotion.

In 1762, for example, Gen. Robert Monckton sent Capt. Horatio Gates to London with word that the British forces had taken Martinique. The general recommended Gates “to His Majesty’s Favour, as a very deserving Officer.” Within five weeks of landing in England, Gates was promoted to major and given £1,000 toward purchasing a lieutenant colonelcy.

(The only problem is that victories like Martinique meant the war was soon over, the army downsized, and Gates never got the chance to rise further. That soured him on the whole British patronage system, turned him into a “red hot Republican,” and led him to move to America in 1773. But I digress.)

Washington didn’t have any battlefield victories to report to the Continental Congress until late December 1776, when he surprised the British and Hessian troops at Trenton. And whom did he choose to carry that news to Baltimore (the Congress having left Philadelphia because the royal forces were getting closer and closer)?

Washington chose George Baylor, of course! The general even added:
Colo. Baylor, my first Aid de Camp, will have the honor of delivering this to you, and from him you may be made acquainted with many other particulars; his spirited Behavior upon every Occasion, requires me to recommend him to your particular Notice.
The Congress accordingly made Baylor head of the new 3rd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment. Problem solved!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Washington Asks Lee for an Aide

In February 1776, Gen. George Washington was desperate enough for an aide de camp with the right skills that he asked Gen. Charles Lee to send him one. Specifically, he wanted William Palfrey (1741-1780, shown here), one of Lee’s aides in New York. Palfrey had worked for John Hancock before the war and was well respected by the Boston Whigs.

At that time, Washington was keeping the job of his military secretary open for Joseph Reed to return to it—which Reed never did. Aide de camp Robert Hanson Harrison was doing the secretary’s job, mustermaster general Stephen Moylan was helping out, but aide de camp George Baylor wasn’t much help at all when it came to office work.

On 10 February, Washington explained the situation to Lee in a letter:
It is unnecessary for me to observe to you, the multiplicity of business I am Involved In—the number of Letters, Orders, & Instruction’s I have to write—with many other matters which call loudly for Aids that are ready Pen-men—I have long waited in exasperation of Colo. Reeds return, but now despair of it. [Edmund] Randolph who was also ready at his Pen, leaves me little room to expect him [back from Virginia]; my business in short, will not allow me to wait, as I have none but Mr. Harrison (for Mr. Moylan must be call’d of to attend his duty as Commissary of Musters) who can afford me much assistance in that way, and he, in case Colo. Reed should not return, has the promise of succeeding him.

Now the Intention of this preamble is to know, whether, if Mr Palfrey (who from what I have seen and heard, is ready at his Pen) should Incline to come into my Family, for I have never directly or indirectly intimated the matter to him, although he has been very warmly recommended to me by some of his Friends for any thing that might cast up, you would consent to it—He would be of Singular use to me on another Acct also, and that is, the universal acquaintance he has with the People & characters of this Government [i.e., Massachusetts], with whom I have so much business to Transact.

Mr Baylor is as good, and as obliging a young Man as any in the World, and so far as he can be Serviceable in Riding, & delivering verbal Orders as useful; but the duties of an Aid de Camp at Head Quarters cannot be properly discharged by any but Pen-men—Mr [Anthony Walton] White in case of vacancy expected to be provided for in my Family, but as I believe he would be just such another as Baylor I must however disappointed he is be excused. Business multiplies so fast upon my hands that I am confined almost intirely to the House, and should be more so, if I am depriv[e]d of that assistanc[e] which is necessary to divide, & take of part of the trouble from my own Shoulders.
Lee would have had to invoke a military emergency to resist such a clear request by his superior and stand in the way of a promotion for Palfrey. At the time there was much more action in Boston than in New York. So Lee cheerfully sent Palfrey north, thus saving Washington’s headquarters from the return of Anthony Walton White.

In 2005 Sotheby’s sold this letter for $36,000.

TOMORROW: How Washington managed to divest himself of George Baylor.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

“The General’s usual mode” of Correspondence

What was it like to work as one of Gen. George Washington’s aides de camp? Dr. James McHenry was a hospital surgeon during the siege of Boston, but later in the war he became an aide to the commander-in-chief.

On one manuscript McHenry wrote a description of how the headquarters worked then:

The General’s usual mode [was] of giving notes to his secretaries or aids for letters of business. Having made out a letter from such notes, it was submitted to the General for his approbation and correction—afterwards copied fair, when it was again copied and signed by him.
And another copy had to be made for the files. The general thus needed aides who could understand his priorities and express what he wanted to say. While he worked on major reports himself, there was simply too much correspondence for him to do all the first drafts.

Washington probably developed that system during the first year of the war, when he was mostly headquartered as what is now Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge. I’ll be speaking there tonight at 6:00 on how the new commander-in-chief set up his system of military administration, making some missteps along the way. Earlier in the day the National Park Service staff will offer tours of the mansion focused on Washington’s time there.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Anthony Walton White Does Not Impress

On Thursday, I’m going to Gen. George Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge to speak about how he managed his generals and his staff. Back on 25 July 1775, a young man showed up at the same building hoping for a place on that staff.

Anthony Walton White (1750-1803) was a grandson of Lewis Morris, governor of New Jersey. He arrived with a recommendation letter from George Clinton of New York. His grandfather wrote another letter on his behalf, and his father wrote to Washington twice.

White wanted to join the Continental Army—but not, of course, at the enlisted level. All the New England regiments were fully stocked with officers or didn’t want anything to do with a stranger from New Jersey. So the only opportunity was in some sort of staff job.

The Continental Congress had authorized Gen. Washington to hire a military secretary and three aides de camp. As of late July, he had filled two of those aide positions with Thomas Mifflin and John Trumbull. So White stuck around.

In August, Mifflin took the more important post of quartermaster general. Two young men from Virginia, Edmund Randolph and George Baylor, arrived and became aides de camp. But Trumbull went back to the Connecticut troops, leaving an opening. And White still stuck around.

Washington wrote to White’s father about his “modest deportment,” but what worried him were White’s modest talents. In fact, he was more interested in the young man’s horse. On 3 October, the general paid White £48 “for a Riding Mare.” White may have needed that money to get home. He returned to New Jersey and sought a commission there instead.

Months later, Washington was still using White as an example of someone he did not want as an aide. In January 1776 he told former secretary Joseph Reed that it “pains me when I think of Mr. White’s expectation of coming into my family if an opening happens.” (In fact, there was still an opening at that time—Washington was keeping the secretary post vacant, hoping Reed would return.)

White never grew in Washington’s esteem. In September 1798 the former President told federal officials that the man hadn’t accomplished anything but “frivolity—dress—empty shew & something worse—in short for being a notorious L—r.” Authors have interpreted the last word as “liar,” but it could also have been “lecher.” And I doubt White developed any personal fondness for Gen. Washington.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Two Revolutionary Books for Young Readers

Before I leave the topic of Revolutionary espionage for a while, here’s a question that came up while I prepared last Sunday’s talk. A mother called asking whether her young son would enjoy the event. The topic was spies, but I talked more about ferreting and figuring out historical evidence than about derring-do. So I recommended a couple of books for young readers that might offer more exciting tours of the same ground.

I’ve written about Stan Mack’s Road to Revolution! before (starting here). It’s a Tintin-like romp following two young teenagers caught up in the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Both Nick and Penny sneak in and out of Boston during the siege, working for the Patriots.

Laurie Calkhoven tells a story of spying more seriously, and in prose, in Daniel at the Siege of Boston. I did a little pre-pub consulting on this book, advising on what would be a realistic way to leave the besieged town. Daniel ends up helping to expose one of the spies discussed in my talk.

Both books include scenes at the Continental headquarters in Cambridge (site of my next talk this Thursday) as the young heroes meet the commander-in-chief.

As it turned out, there were a couple of young folks at Sunday’s lecture, and they stayed awake. At least I hope so.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two Lectures in One Week

Thanks to the Friends of Minute Man National Park and their guests for coming out to my talk yesterday on Gen. George Washington’s espionage efforts and surprises in the first year of the Revolutionary War. It was gratifying to see such a turnout. (Nothing I like better than helping volunteers scramble to put out more chairs.)

The question-and-answer session was thought-provoking as usual. Among the topics we discussed were:
  • Did Margaret Gage disclose her husband’s military secrets to Dr. Joseph Warren? (Check out the link to her name for my thoughts in detail.)
  • How did New Englanders react to the signs of Dr. Benjamin Church’s treachery? (Patriots were astonished, Patriots’ wives less so since he had already betrayed his wife, and Bostonians rioted when it looked like he was going to be exchanged.)
  • Did Maj. John André leave any descendants in the U.S. of A.? (He died a bachelor, and several modern authors have concluded that he was gay, so I’m guessing not.)
I’m always impressed by how well people in this area know Revolutionary history.

My next talk is this Thursday, 14 March, at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge at 6:00 P.M. The topic is “George Washington, Crisis Manager: The Shaky Start-Up of the Continental Army Headquarters.”

When Washington arrived in Massachusetts in July 1775, he took on responsibility for an army that was supposed to include 20,000 men. That was larger than any group he had administered before, larger by more than an order of magnitude. He had to find the right people and the right systems to manage that force. I plan to talk about the aides Washington ended up with, the methods they used, and the lessons they learned.

To reserve a space for that lecture, email the rangers at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters. Be aware that there’s very little public parking nearby, especially with the latest snow. (Photo above by Len Edgerly in 2006.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Truth about Thomas Machin

I’ve been discussing the early life of Thomas Machin, commissioned a lieutenant in the Continental Army artillery on 18 Jan 1776. But what had he been doing before then?

His family left an account that had Machin born to a distinguished British scientist, working for a duke, coming to America in 1772, and quickly joining the movement that led to independence. But there’s no evidence for any of that, and strong evidence against it.

And then there’s this 27 July 1775 entry from the journal of Lt. Richard Williams of His Majesty’s 23rd Regiment of Foot:
Last night Thos. Machin, soldier in our Regt. deserted when sentry on the fire boat in the river near the neck. he went off in the Canoe go to this float, he took the other man’s firelock with him, as it was that man’s turn to lay down, this fellow will give them good intelligence of our Works, for he was a pretty good Mechenik & knew a little of fortification. he invented a new carriage for guns on a pivot &c. his books & instruments were sent for to the General’s.
Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble also noted the desertion that night of a man from the 23rd, “a sensible intelligent fellow, some knowledge of fortification and Gunnery.”

The 23rd Regiment’s muster rolls record that Thomas Machin had enlisted in Maj. Harry Blunt’s company on 17 Feb 1773 and sailed to New York that spring. The regiment arrived in Boston in August 1774. Machin was thus in the army during the Battle of Bunker Hill—but in the British army.

Several people on the American side noted Machin’s arrival, though most didn’t record his name. Col. William T. Miller of Rhode Island wrote on 29 July that “it is thought [he] will prove a very serviceable man to our army, as he is able to give a plan of all the works and fortifications in Boston, and knows all their plans.” The old veteran Jedidiah Preble said he was “as sensible intelligent a fellow as I ever met with.”

Most important, Gen. George Washington wrote down “An Acct. of the Killed & Wounded in the Ministerial Army” based on a conversation with a man he recorded as “John Machin.” The commander-in-chief assigned the deserter to work with his young aide-de-camp, John Trumbull, to draw plans of the British fortifications. (One product of their collaboration appears above.) Later Machin worked for quartermaster general Thomas Mifflin and was most likely a scout during an 8 Jan 1776 raid on British positions at Charlestown.

Machin’s entry in American National Biography says nothing about that activity, accepting the family story of a genteel life in England and a respectable arrival in America. But Machin was a British army private, a deserter, and part of “Washington’s First Spy Ring” during the siege of Boston. I’ll divulge more secrets of the general’s early intelligence efforts this afternoon in Lincoln at an event sponsored by the Friends of Minute Man National Park.

(Thanks to Bob Vogler for posting the quote from Lt. Williams’s diary above to the Revlist in 2002. That sent me hunting for the elusive Thomas Machin.)

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Holes in Thomas Machin’s Biography

Yesterday I quoted the biography of Thomas Machin, military engineer for the Continental Army, as it was published in 1845. It linked the man by blood to one of England’s most prominent mathematicians, by employment to one of England’s finest engineers and a duke, and by history to a famous British military victory fought when Machin was just fifteen years old.

Despite such prominence, the details of that life are impossible to confirm. Sometimes the information is just too vague. For example, “He was born March 20th, 1744, O. S., four miles from Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England.” I’ve looked at birth records from parishes that fit the description and haven’t found Machin’s name, but of course I might have missed the right register.

As for Machin’s father being “John Machin, a distinguished mathematician,” I can rule that out. John Machin (1686?-1751, shown above) was the most distinguished man in eighteenth-century England with that surname. He was secretary of the Royal Society from 1718 to 1748 and professor of astronomy at Gresham College.

Gresham College is in London. Prof. Machin had no connection to Wolverhampton, more than a hundred miles away. He never married, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says that when he died “his only relative was a second cousin, Mary Tasker.”

The biography says Thomas Machin’s first military experience was in “a corps of English cadets,…or fencibles, as called,” in the Battle of Minden in 1759. “Fencibles” meant militia troops raised to defend the British homeland, so they didn’t fight in Germany.

Was Machin clerk to James Brindley (1716-1772), the canal engineer? In the mid-nineteenth century, legend had it that Brindley was “practically illiterate” and kept no records, which would have made it impossible to test that statement. Now we know that some of Brindley’s records did survive, but without specific dates it’s hard to know where to look.

The biography says Machin arrived in America in 1772 and was “one of the celebrated Boston tea party of 1773.” That was a secret, risky operation, and it’s extremely unlikely that the Boston radicals would have shared their plans with a new arrival from England. I haven’t spotted Machin’s name in any of the records of pre-Revolutionary Boston, particularly those of political activity.

The capsule biography goes on to say that Machin “was engaged and wounded (in one arm) in the conflict on Bunker’s hill, while acting as lieutenant of artillery.” But Thomas J. Abernathy’s study of Col. Richard Gridley’s artillery regiment in 1775 says that Machin’s name doesn’t appear on its records until his commission as a second lieutenant in January 1776.

TOMORROW: Which is not to say Machin wasn’t in the army during that battle.

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Early Life of Thomas Machin

After the Revolutionary War, Capt. Thomas Machin of the Continental artillery settled in upstate New York, built mills, and raised a family. In his 1845 History of Schoharie County, Jeptha R. Simms (shown here, courtesy of Three Rivers) devoted a great deal of space to Machin, based on documents surviving from the war and afterward and family recollections.

Here’s how Simms described Machin’s pre-war career:
He was born March 20th, 1744, O. S., four miles from Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England. His father, John Machin, a distinguished mathematician, had two sons, John and Thomas. The former was killed at the siege of some town near the outlet of the Red Sea; and the later was one of a corps of English cadets, which, with the British infantry became so distinguished for their bravery in the battle of Minden, Germany. The cadets, or fencibles, as called, were almost annihilated in that battle, which took place between the allied army under Ferdinand and the French, in August, 1759.

The Duke of Bridgewater, who may justly be styled the father of the canal navigation of Great Britain, projected at his own expense a canal from the coal measures on his lands in the town of Worsley to Manchester, a distance of some ten miles; obtaining his first act for the same at the session of parliament for the winter of 1758 and 59. A few years after he obtained an act for carrying a branch of it to Liverpool, nearly thirty miles. . . .

Those great works which were looked upon at their commencement by the incredulous as wholly impracticable, were prosecuted to completion under the direction of the celebrated engineer and mechanical inventor, James Brindley. Soon after Brindley began those works, Thomas Machin entered his employ; and it is not surprising that under such a tutor, he, too, should have become a good practical engineer. He was engaged in taking the levels for the Duke’s canal; and as clerk paid off many of the laborers employed by Brindley.

After making a voyage to the East Indies, Machin sailed for America, and arriving in 1772, took up his residence in the city of New York. The principal object of his voyage was to examine a copper mine in New Jersey.

After a short stay in New York, he went to reside in Boston, and evidently intended a permanent residence; as he warmly espoused the cause of the Bostonians against his “father land.” He was one of the celebrated Boston tea party of 1773. He was engaged and wounded (in one arm) in the conflict on Bunker’s hill, while acting as lieutenant of artillery.
That biography is the basis for Machin’s inclusion in many lists of Tea Party participants and Bunker Hill veterans. It’s the source of the information about his background in American National Biography and other reference books.

In every point it’s either false, misleading, or unverifiable.

TOMORROW: What’s wrong with this biography.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

“Washington’s First Spy Ring” Talk in Lincoln, 10 Mar.

On Sunday, 10 March, I’ll speak to the Friends of Minute Man National Park on “Washington’s First Spy Ring”:

One of the biggest challenges that Gen. George Washington faced when he became Continental Army commander-in-chief was gathering intelligence on the British military in Boston. This talk reveals secrets and names the names.
I’m scheduled to start at 3:00 P.M. at Bemis Hall, 15 Bedford Road in Lincoln. Thanks to the Friends, this lecture is free and open to the public.

At left is a French map of the Hudson River near West Point, New York. The Continental Army fortified this narrow point in the river to keep the Royal Navy from sailing up the Hudson to reach Lake George and Lake Champlain, thus potentially cutting New England off from the rest of the U.S. of A.

In addition to the forts on either side of the Hudson, the Americans built a barrier across it, designated on the map by the line to the right of the “ou.”

That was the Great Hudson River Chain, actually a pair of booms floating on the water, one of sharpened logs roped together and one of rafts supporting and held together by giant iron links. Any British ship trying to sail upriver would have to turn at that spot and try to break through the barriers, all under fire from both sides. From 1778 to the end of the war, no ship ever tried.

What does the defense of the Hudson River have to do with my talk this weekend? The military engineer in charge of designing, manufacturing, assembling, and maintaining that chain was Capt. Thomas Machin. He was part of Washington’s first spy ring outside Boston in July 1775, but that fact has been kept secret until now.

TOMORROW: Thomas Machin’s background.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Boston Massacre and the Rising Generation

Last Saturday’s reenactment of the Boston Massacre drew scores of volunteers from at least as far north as New Hampshire and at least as far south as Virginia and Kentucky. Their dedication was awe-inspiring, as always.

I was especially impressed by some of the younger participants:
  • the drummer for His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot.
  • the young children adding pathos as the offspring of Pvt. Edward and Isabela Montgomery.
  • the young men playing wigmakers’ apprentices Edward Garrick and Bartholomew Broaders, diligent in working out their cues with the narrator.
They suggest this reenactment has a fine future ahead.

I’m never tired of pointing out that in 1770 most Bostonians were under the age of sixteen. The same pattern applied throughout the British Empire, and probably throughout the world. In an era of short life expectancy and large families, children easily outnumbered adults.

It was only natural, then, that young people were caught up in the violence that year. For example, John Appleton (1758-1829) testified at the soldiers’ trial:
About 9 o’clock I was sent of an errand, in King street. I was going home—at Jenkin’s alley about 20 soldiers, one came to me with his cutlass.

I cried soldier spare my life,

no d—n you we’ll kill you all and struck me upon the shoulder.

I dodged or he would have hit me on the head.
John Adams recorded those words in his trial notes. Young John Appleton had stumbled into one of the several brawls around Boston earlier that night, but he was home by the time of the big fatal fight on King Street. He grew up to become a merchant in France before returning to Massachusetts.

Appleton’s testimony showed that the experience of Boston’s pre-Revolutionary turmoil wasn’t just for adults. And neither are the reenactments.

[The thumbnail above leads to Brian D’Amico’s photographs of the event on Flickr.]

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Charles Bahne on the Boston Massacre Site Today

This is the anniversary of the shootings on King Street in 1770. That street became known as State Street, and the event became known as the Boston Massacre. Today guest blogger Charles Bahne, author of Chronicles of Old Boston, continues his analysis of exactly where the shootings happened.

Under the balcony at the east end of the Old State House, a circle of stones sits in the sidewalk, surrounded by a bronze ring proclaiming the “Site of the Boston Massacre.” Perhaps hundreds of thousands of people pause at that circle each year, to take a photo or listen to a tour guide, as they contemplate the events of that fateful fifth of March, 243 years ago.

They’re standing in the wrong place.

When first installed in 1887, the memorial stones were embedded in the middle of the intersection, nearer the site where Crispus Attucks actually fell. Since then, the circular marker has been moved at least three times: once in 1904, for Blue Line subway construction; again in the 1960s for Government Center urban renewal; and most recently in 2011 to build the plaza that’s there today. Its current location was chosen merely for safety, so that people can stand around the stones without being hit by traffic.

Published here for the first time anywhere, this diagram above shows how present-day landmarks relate to the buildings and events of March 5, 1770. My goal in creating this diagram was to update Paul Revere’s plan of the Massacre—described yesterday—into the 21st century. It’s a project that I first envisioned thirty years ago, now made far easier by online availability of historic maps and modern satellite views.

Running from right to left in my diagram is King Street, now known as State Street. At the left is present-day Washington Street, called “Main Street” by Revere, but designated as “Cornhill” on other colonial-era maps. (Remember that the Revere map is oriented with north to the right, so Cornhill is at the top.)

South of State Street, today’s street patterns remain remarkably similar to those in Revere’s day. Going from west to east, Revere labeled the streets as Pudin [Pudding] Lane, Court Square, and Quaker Lane. Today these are Devonshire Street, Quaker Lane, and Congress Street. (Note that the name Quaker Lane has been transferred from one thoroughfare to another in the intervening centuries!) Devonshire and Congress Streets are wider now, but Quaker Lane remains as a pedestrian pathway. The present buildings south of State Street—erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—still stand upon historic property lines, just as the 1770 structures did.

But north of State Street substantial changes have been made in the last half-century. The Government Center project obliterated streets that had survived the centuries, and skyscrapers are now set back from the historic street lines to create wide plazas.

To the right of the Town House on Revere’s plan is an unnamed street, called Crooked Lane on other colonial maps. Known as part of Devonshire Street until the 1960s, it would have run right through today’s skyscraper at 28 State Street.

The Custom House, at the lower right of Revere’s plan, stood at the corner of what he called Exchange Lane. Widened multiple times, it’s now an extension of Congress Street, four times its original breadth. Thus the Custom House—and the Massacre soldiers—stood where the northbound lanes of Congress Street flow today. To its west, the Exchange Tavern of Revere’s day was mostly in the southbound lanes of new Congress Street.

At lower left in Revere’s drawing is the house where Edward Payne was shot on his doorstep; today a stone wall of the Exchange Place high-rise stands on the site.

The main Guard House, headquarters of His Majesty’s armed forces in Boston, stood just south of the Old State House on the site that was until recently the entrance to a National Park Visitor Center at 15 State Street. It was here that Capt. Thomas Preston “walked up and down…for near half an hour” before deciding to bring relief troops to aid the besieged sentry in front of the Custom House. Shown, but not labeled, on Revere’s drawing are the two fieldpieces or cannons that the army placed in front of the Guard House, pointing directly at the Representatives’ Chamber just across the street.

One other colonial building of note is the Old Brick Meeting-House, home to Boston’s oldest Congregational parish, whose cupola is prominent behind the Old State House in Revere’s engraving. On his plan it would be just beyond the margin at upper left; on my diagram, a corner of it is visible to the left of the “C” in the label “Cornhill.”

It was fairly easy to determine the footprint of 1770s buildings as they relate to modern-day landmarks. My basic assumption was that colonial buildings were on the property line, and not set back from it. Especially on major thoroughfares—such as King Street and Cornhill—their façades made a uniform row at the boundary between private land and the public street. This assumption is borne out by the appearance of King Street both in Revere’s engraving of the Massacre and in the plan described here yesterday. An 1801 view of State Street and the Old State House also confirms this assumption.

The thick red lines in my diagram then, technically indicate property lines, but I assume they are the same as or very close to the building lines. Those property lines are well documented in a series of highly-detailed atlases prepared for fire insurance underwriters. Atlases from 1867 to 1938 are now available online at several sources; with design software, I could overlay maps from different eras over satellite views from sites like Google Maps. Also of assistance were an 1895 map showing how streets had been widened and a detailed map of Boston from 1814.

Revere’s drawing served as my chief source for the places where the soldiers and victims stood. But as noted here yesterday, the exact sites where some of the victims fell—especially the fifth fatality—has been, and will always be, fodder for speculation.

A larger version of Charlie’s “Boston Massacre Site, Then and Now” diagram will be featured in the fourth edition of his guidebook The Complete Guide to Boston’s Freedom Trail, coming this spring. Look for it at finer shops around Boston and online. Or, if you can’t wait, the third edition is available here.

Thanks for sharing your work, Charlie!